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Putting Consumers First

Kassie Deng, Katherine Rossi, Dan Grappone and Heriberto Salcedo of Viacom

— March 7, 2017 — Business
Viacom is an American mass media conglomerate that owns Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, MTV, Spike, Comedy Central, as well as various other large TV networks, recording labels, and more.

Recently, Trend Hunter spoke with Kassie Deng, Katherine Rossi, Dan Grappone and Heriberto Salcedo of Viacom's marketing and insights team. They touched on the importance of putting consumers before profits, experiencing events that are pivotal to youth culture firsthand, and what the future of the industry will likely look like.

How does your team generate great ideas? Do you have certain rituals to make creativity happen?

We all work on the same team, and something we’ve done recently to come up with ideas is a "hackathon," where we take a little time out of our days to come together and assess what challenges we’re facing as a group, and then come up with solutions. This helps us to make our lives a little easier, improve processes, and make just things more efficient overall. This has worked really well for us and it’d be great to keep doing it on a regular basis.

What are some barriers to innovation?

Internal politics can sometimes be a barrier. Having to manage up and advocate for an idea to different groups of people can sometimes be difficult.

How do you identify trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and insights?

Personal connections can be a great source. For example, seeing what younger family members are interested in can really help with getting a better understanding of what a specific demographic of consumers is interested in and what they’re not. At Viacom and MTV, it’s really important for us to know what Millennial and Generation Z demographics are doing because this makes up such a large portion of our consumer base.

Subscribing to a number of different resources helps us to identify trends as well. We use Trend Hunter, Cassandra, and others. These help us to highlight what’s happening with specific demographics a lot. In combination with these subscription services, Twitter can be really useful as well to see what’s being retweeted and talked about.

Do you have specific rituals for resetting to be creative?

Disconnecting completely from technology can really help, sometimes it’s best to just get out and go for a walk or pick up a book.

Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced an innovation at your company?

Recently, we’ve noticed that Airbnb and Uber have influenced us a lot. We partnered with Airbnb to promote 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' not long ago. With them, we recreated the turtles’ lair and people were able to actually rent it out and experience it for themselves. Although this was to market a specific project, it changed how we look at similar endeavors down the road.

Inspiration often comes from the art world as well. An exhibit called 'Glass Room' particularly stands out because its theme surrounded data and the lack of privacy that can come with the Internet age. It sparked new ideas for data visualization in our day-to-day work.

What do you think your industry will look like in 10 years?

Things will become more automated, and data entry and pulling will be much more seamless. Due to this, we’ll be able to spend much more of our time actually doing analysis. Most likely, the rudimentary tasks will be taken care of by technology and we’ll be able to focus even more on innovation and the big picture.

What’s the most unconventional thing you have done to get creative inspiration?

As a team, we used to go to movies as soon as they came out. We saw 'Hunger Games' and 'Divergence' this way and it really allowed us to understand iconic youth culture moments through a much more personal perspective.

What’s the importance of involving your team in local businesses and local experiences?

Being in New York, we have a lot of resources that are just naturally accessible to us that we probably take for granted. When you’re in the heart of Times Square, you’re right at the center of where everything is moving and happening. Because of this, you can just walk outside and find inspiration, or even ask people on the street a question and come back with an incredibly diverse range of thoughts. Being here is inspiring in itself, especially because New York tends to be on the forefront of trends.

In general terms, what do you believe is the best way for brands to connect to their consumers? How do you use this approach to connect to yours?

Sometimes, brands look at tactics and profits more than the actual consumers, but we believe it’s really important to put our consumers first in our approach. This can be really difficult for some people however, because they’ve found themselves behind a desk for so long rather than in the shoes of the consumer.

Building off of that, we believe that it's vital for brands to actually go out and meet their consumers face-to-face, especially at a time when the industry is gravitating towards big data. It’s really easy to get lost in the numbers and forget that data points are actual human beings. You really can’t understand consumers without asking them questions to determine what they really think.

How do you/your company assess creativity versus risk? What (if any) creative risks aren't worth taking?

Viacom is great about encouraging everyone to take creative risks, we don’t often hear the word "no" when presenting an idea that we're passionate about and able to support with reasoning. We’re really lucky to have that kind of a culture here, where creativity is so wholeheartedly embraced and where failure isn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing, but rather as an opportunity to learn.

Can you discuss a project that was specifically successful by your own measure of success? What do you think made it so?

We recently did a study on multicultural Millennials, called 'Millennial Mosaic.' We found it to be successful because people in the industry are constantly talking and thinking about millennials. Because of this, everyone thinks that they know exactly who they are, but after doing this study, we were able to shed light on a different side of the demographic that doesn’t get talked about nearly as often.

In the media, the narrative surrounding millennials usually shows them as being entitled or lazy. With this study, our findings often completely countered these narratives, which was really interesting and helped to open a lot of peoples' minds.

How does your company approach the Generation Z demographic in comparison to Millennials?

For us, it’s an ongoing exercise when it comes to understanding youth. Rather than looking at the two generations comparatively, we try to think of them more organically -- as they grow up and their interests change. We’re constantly trying to stay ahead of not only who our audience is today, but who they are a month or even five years down the line. Due to this, we’re not ever really thinking of just Millennials or just Generation Z, because we constantly study both in a fluid manner.
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